As the world responds to climate change and other sustainability matters, accountants anticipate outcomes around COP26 in Glasgow, writes Shari Littan, director – corporate reporting research and thought leadership at the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)


Billed as “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”, this year’s conference has a special ‘make or break’ urgency.

From the standpoint of a finance and accounting professional, this sense of anticipation also involves the beginning of a changed regulatory and standard-setting paradigm for corporate reporting as well as management decision making.

The series of events in November around COP26 includes an expectation that the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation will announce next steps toward the formation of an International Sustainability Standards Board.

This board, as proposed, will set standards for disclosure on sustainable business activities, beginning with climate but ultimately addressing a broader range of ESG issues. There is also an expectation that other securities and market regulators, such as the European Commission and its European Financial Reporting Advisory Board, and in turn, the US Securities & Exchange Commission, will follow suit.

To respond meaningfully to these regulatory and standard-setting movements along with the need for professional education and resources, IMA has established a Sustainable Business Management Global Task Force (IMA.SBM.GTF) to speak on behalf of the management accounting profession: accountants and finance professionals in business. The IMA.SBM.GTF’s primary goals include:

  • Defining a set of fundamental principles for building a successful and sustainable accounting ecosystem;
  • Advocating on behalf of the profession before governments, regulatory authorities and other organizations on sustainable business management and the perspectives of accountants and financial professionals in business;
  • Educating IMA members and the global business community on the role of accounting and finance professionals with respect to sustainable business information and management.

 

In line with these priorities, the task force has endorsed an IMA Statement of Position on Sustainable Business Information and Management, which articulates nine principles for building this new corporate reporting ecosystem. At their core, the principles reflect management as a critical stakeholder, and the need for decision-useful information not only for investors and external stakeholders but also for corporate-side decision making. The principles are:

  1. Sustainable business reporting must instil trust and confidence in the profession. Accountants must adhere to the same ethical principles and accountability that they have always applied to their responsibilities;
  2. Sustainable business information must be decision-useful and actionable from management’s perspective. The goal should be for reporting to lead to decision making around sustainability, not just information accumulation;
  3. Entities must produce reliable sustainable business information that flows from systems with strong governance, oversight and internal controls. New sustainable business will require new systems of oversight, and reporters need ample time to develop and implement systems that ensure the quality of ESG disclosure;
  4. Corporate reporting must follow from a value-creation mindset. Financial and non-financial silos are wasteful. The goal is to deliver, preserve and build value for all stakeholders;
  5. Sustainable business reporting must fully utilize technology for efficiency throughout the data ecosystem. Digital transformation will be key to lessening the burdens on reporters and streamlining the delivery of information from source to ultimate user;
  6. Sustainable business initiatives must be relevant to SMEs. Implementation challenges are not the same for SMEs as for global corporations but engaging these entities can bring about enormous benefits to building sustainable economies. It is therefore highly beneficial for authorities that are developing new disclosure requirements to prioritize these organizations’ needs;
  7. ESG reporting standards must address the burdens of preparers, particularly around fragmentation. Among the costliest challenges leading to the implementation delay of ESG reporting and disclosure regimes has been advocacy around many competing frameworks, guidelines, standards and (both public and commercial) survey instruments. We urge the world’s standard-setters to work toward greater alignment;
  8. Disclosure of ESG information to the securities markets must adhere to the accepted and well-established precedent of materiality;
  9. Disclosure mandates must be clear to the intended user. Information reported must have a clear audience and not simply contribute to information overload that is not actually decision-relevant.

 

IMA believes sustainable business is good business. Our role is to build value, promote trust and facilitate action. As the finance and accounting world ushers in a new era, our global task force will be representing our profession, refining our core principles and helping professionals worldwide understand and thrive in the new paradigm.